Illusionism: Where Do You Stand?

pemerton

Legend
I agree it's not really illusionism as per the quantum ogres example, but it is IMO a contrivance; and comes across as a contrivance when done.

For example, if you're fifteen adventures into a campaign and an enchanted glaive has never crossed the PCs' path and then someone brings in a glaive-spec. Fighter, having an enchanted glaive just happen to show up in the next adventure is a bit too contrived, and comes across as such to the players - including the one that benefits.
Is this a universal truth, or just your experience?

In my long-running, default-setting 4e D&D campaign, one of the PCs - a Dwarf from the Black Peaks - was proficient in the Black Peak Halberd, a superior version of the halberd that I designed for the player, modelled on the other superior weapons found in the PHB and Adventurer's Vault.

In an early session - maybe the second or third - the PCs confronted a group of opponents from the Iron Ring slavers. One of the opponents also wielded a Black Peak Halberd. The two characters - fighter PC and warrior NPC - faced off in an epic climax. The NPC taunted the PC about his use of the Black Peak Halberd - I as GM took the opportunity to introduce some backstory placing Minotaurs as having played a role in tutoring the Dwarves after they gained their freedom from the Giants. The PC defended the honour of himself and the Dwarves of the Black Peaks, and bested the NPC in combat. And took the +1 Defender Black Peak Halberd as his prize.

No one at the table complained that this was contrived. I'm recalling from many years ago now, but I don't think my memory is doing too much editing in recalling that we all found the scene pretty exciting and worthwhile.
 

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But you can understand my confusion, right? From the word choices and tone of some of these comments, it's easy to get the impression that the DM and the players are opponents...that one is trying to win against, or defeat, the other. The DM and the players should all be on the same team, but it definitely didn't sound like that was the case.
I'm not fighting the DM. I'm fighting the fiction. It's a subtle but important difference.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
These comments collectively add up to a significant difference in philosophy from mine, I think, with the dichotomy being this:

Should the game state (in this case, the available items) be expected to adapt to the characters in play, or should the characters be expected to adapt to the game state as presented?

I'm very much in the latter camp: the characters are what they are and the setting is what it is, and if something doesn't match it's the characters, as run by their players, who should find a way to adapt.

If I've brought in a character with the player-side concept that this character is all about flying, say, and by bad luck or whatever over time I simply can't get my mitts on any means of flight, then maybe I-as-player eventually need to have the character give up on that idea and try something else (a trivially easy thing to roleplay in character). I as player have no right to expect (or worse, demand) the game give my character access to a flight device just because that's what I-as-player and she-in-character wants.

Or if a group of players all decide to play mages and most of the items they find early on are weapons and armour, it's on the mages (and their players) to find a way to make use of them, even if said use consists only of selling them for money and then converting that money into new spells or whatever.

Which means yes, the whole idea of wish lists is right out: I mean sure, make one if you like; but if I'm DMing you're pretty much wasting your time unless you're also willing to have your character do something about it in the fiction, possibly at great risk and-or cost (the stereotypical example here is a Paladin questing for a Holy Avenger).
Im talking much simpler terms. Like, you need a +X to hit item, +Y to saves item, and +Z to AC by A level. If you dont, the game math doesn't work, like in 3E/PF1. 5E has largely moved away from this so your ideas are intact, im just speaking from a general design perspective.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Even if it's Force, I don't really see the Illusion!
It depends on if the players know that treasure is going to be tailored to them or not. If they believe that the DM is running the game as written and magic items will be determined randomly, then it's an illusion to let them think it's random and have treasure chosen for specific PCs. If they know, then there's no illusionism involved.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Treasure table make the world objective? That too is an illusion.
Not objective. More realistic. Treasure not being tailored for those who find it is more realistic than "randomly" finding treasure that fits what everyone has been wanting for their PCs. There are exceptions of course, such as a reward for services rendered where the PC asks for something specific and is given it.
 

pemerton

Legend
It appears I have conflated Force with Illusionism but there is a strong relationship between the two right?
I'm hesitant to try and speak too authoritatively about how you should understand your own play, because you're there and I'm not. But I can share my own thoughts about these things, in the hope that they might be helpful to you.

I'm reposting, from upthread, some quotes that underlie my understanding of Force and Illusionism:
Well, I tend to think of "illusionism" within the context that it was introduced. From here, we first get a definition of "Force" which is then used to explain "Illusionism":

Force: the final authority that any person who is not playing a particular player-character has over decisions and actions made by that player-character. This is distinct from information that the GM imparts or chooses not to impart to play . .

Force techniques include [action declaration] manipulation, fudged/ignored rolls, perception management, clue moving, scene framing as a form of reducing options, directions as to character's actions using voiced and unvoiced signals, modifying features of various NPCs during play, and authority over using textual rules. . . .

Force Techniques often include permitting pseudo-decisions . . . Also, Force Techniques do vary in how flexible a scene's outcome is permitted to be. Some GMs (to use the classic single-GM context) might do anything up to actually picking up your dice for you in order for you to talk to "that guy," or he might let the characters miss the clue, either 'porting it to another character or letting its absence go ahead and affect the outcome. . . .

Illusionism is a widespread technique of play and arguably, textually, the most supported approach to the hobby, as testified most recently by the publication Secrets of Game-mastering (2002, Atlas Games). It relies on Force . . . . GMing with lots of covert Force is called Illusionism. I call that the Black Curtain; if the Curtain is drawn, then the players aren't immediately clued in about the presence and extent of the Force itself.

Force (Illusionist or not) isn't necessarily dyfunctional: it works well when the GM's main role is to make sure that the transcript ends up being a story, with little pressure or expectation for the players to do so beyond accepting the GM's Techniques. I think that a shared "agreement to be deceived" is typically involved, i.e., the players agree not to look behind the Black Curtain. I suggest that people who like Illusionist play are very good at establishing and abiding by their tolerable degree of Force, and Secrets of Gamemastering seems to bear that out as the perceived main issue of satisfactory role-playing per se.
So I see Force as a special case of GM decision-making about what happens next - namely, decision-making that steps into the realm of players' action declaration and resolution for their PCs.

That "realm" can be a nebulous one, and even when it is clear in a particular moment of play that clarity is going to be a function of particular RPG system being played, plus general table expectations, plus what was understood by everyone at this particular moment of play, etc.

To give two, contrasting examples:

*In a classic dungeon-crawl, if a player declares that their PC looks closely at the stalagmites, it would - at least it seems to me - Force for the GM to decide, on a whim, that one of them is a roper. Because this changes the meaning and consequences of the declared action - which, in a dungeon crawl, is all about carefully navigating your surroundings and avoiding being hosed by ropers and the like.

In my 4e game, when a player declared that their PCs looked closely at the stalagmites, I decided - on a whim - that one of them was a roper. This was undoubtedly relatively hard scene-framing - and in a conversation with one of my players a couple of weeks ago he still remembered it, over 10 years later. Was it Force? In the context of 4e D&D, which - at least at my table - was *not about carefully navigating one's surrounding to avoid being hosed by ropers and the like, and was (among other things) about showing off your prowess in trope- and theme-laden conflicts - I don't think so. For that sort of game, it didn't change the meaning and consequence of the action - in mechanical terms the players got the benefit of the additional XP, the treasure parcels and action points those entail, etc; and in the broader "flow" of the game they got to show of their prowess to an even higher degree.​

Whether or not what I did was Force, it definitely wasn't Illusionism! Everyone at the table knew what had happened - a player, through his declared action, had prompted me to make a roper part of the situation.

Or consider the example, in the passages I quoted, of the GM picking up the player's dice: Force, but no Illusion at all!

Illusionism is when the Force is concealed - and so, for instance, the GM pretends the roper was there, in their notes and planning, all along: they deny or conceal the fact that it was introduced on a whim in response to a declared action.

Likewise the clue-moving (a staple of published modules) - the players' declared actions, as resolved, don't reveal the clue, and instead of proceeding from this failure the GM manipulates the fiction "behind the screen" to bring it about that the consequences of a future action include a negation of the previous failure to find the clue.

Anyway, I hope that gives a sense of how I understand the terms. For what it's worth, I would go with naked Force - that is, letting everyone know that you as GM are imposing your vision on the fiction - over Illusion just about every time.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But you can understand my confusion, right? From the word choices and tone of some of these comments, it's easy to get the impression that the DM and the players are opponents...that one is trying to win against, or defeat, the other. The DM and the players should all be on the same team, but it definitely didn't sound like that was the case.
The players should be trying to defeat the DM, I've no problem with that.

The DM should be trying not so much to outright defeat the players but to not be defeated, or at worst make them work for the victory and maybe suffer some serious knockbacks along the way.
 

Reynard

Legend
That would be like prepping for 6 PC, and then running the encounters unmodified for 4 PCs because two people had conflicts that night.
If we are talking about an old school dungeon exploration or hex crawl, I actually wouldn't lighten up the encounters because two players couldn't make it. For that the kind game, the point is that the world is what it is (whether that is due to heavy prep, purchased modules, a reliance on random tables, or some combination thereof). The state of the party does not change the world. If they take the chute down to level seven at level 3? Oops. If they roll into the BBEG lair depleted of HP and spell? Oops. If half the party is chilling at the the inn? Oops.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
The players should be trying to defeat the DM, I've no problem with that.

The DM should be trying not so much to outright defeat the players but to not be defeated, or at worst make them work for the victory and maybe suffer some serious knockbacks along the way.
This isn't the way I play D&D. That's all I can really say.
 

pemerton said:
I'm reposting, from upthread, some quotes that underlie my understanding of Force and Illusionism:
Thanks, this was extremely helpful in better understanding the relationship between the two. I had missed this.

In my 4e game, when a player declared that their PCs looked closely at the stalagmites, I decided - on a whim - that one of them was a roper. This was undoubtedly relatively hard scene-framing - and in a conversation with one of my players a couple of weeks ago he still remembered it, over 10 years later. Was it Force? In the context of 4e D&D, which - at least at my table - was *not about carefully navigating one's surrounding to avoid being hosed by ropers and the like, and was (among other things) about showing off your prowess in trope- and theme-laden conflicts - I don't think so. For that sort of game, it didn't change the meaning and consequence of the action - in mechanical terms the players got the benefit of the additional XP, the treasure parcels and action points those entail, etc; and in the broader "flow" of the game they got to show of their prowess to an even higher degree.​

Whether or not what I did was Force, it definitely wasn't Illusionism! Everyone at the table knew what had happened - a player, through his declared action, had prompted me to make a roper part of the situation.

Or consider the example, in the passages I quoted, of the GM picking up the player's dice: Force, but no Illusion at all!

Illusionism is when the Force is concealed - and so, for instance, the GM pretends the roper was there, in their notes and planning, all along: they deny or conceal the fact that it was introduced on a whim in response to a declared action.
I read the transcript of your game - pretty cool.
Was the roper introduced due to the Action Declaration of the player or due to the success with the Perception check?
Or in other words, what would have happened if the player had rolled poorly - would the roper have been introduced?

And did you actually say something to the effect of "I had not prepared for a roper, but your action declaration/perception roll prompted be to include it" ?

Anyway, I hope that gives a sense of how I understand the terms. For what it's worth, I would go with naked Force - that is, letting everyone know that you as GM are imposing your vision on the fiction - over Illusion just about every time.
Thankyou this is helpful and plays well with foregrounding the G as per Manbearcat's advice.
 

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